“I started working at 11 as a small-time actress. At the time, all I wanted to do was get famous through modeling or show biz, and at this age I was starting to put my dream into motion.”
Content Warning: Depression, Suicide, Eating disorders
Author’s Note: Not based on a true story.
I’m Isla. Since I was a child, I have always aspired to be a model. I saw them on TV, and they were my role models, like Beige Inc. and CL Beauty models. The models there, they were beautiful, happy, and rich! I longed to be those things. I remember wearing my mom’s clothes, putting on her makeup and high heels, and doing my greatest catwalk in front of her. I loved pretending to be a model. I loved doing it because I was happy. But I never thought the fashion world would be like this. Hello, I’m Isla Middleton, and this is my story.
I started working at 11 as a small-time actress. At the time, all I wanted to do was get famous through modeling or show biz, and at this age I was starting to put my dream into motion. I started acting in movies as small roles, but worked hard on those roles. When I was on set acting, an actress by the name of Olive Flores watched me and supported me. When I was done with my scene, she said good job to me and referred me to some people she knew. She also winked at me.
After Olive did that, I started getting more roles and started getting more and more popular. Even though I was burnt out from working a lot, I was happy and proud.
Then I got a lead role in a movie (when I was 14), and that changed everything for me. When I learned I got the part, I was smiling ear to ear. I was beaming with glee since I got a lead part! When I got home from work, I told my mom what happened. (She raised me by herself. She was a single mom.)
“Hey, Mom,” I said.
“Yeah?” My mom asked smugly, already knowing the situation (my grin gave it away).
“I just got a lead role in the movie, Guardian of the Lilac!”
”I’m so proud of you, honey! I knew I raised you well.”
When she said, that we both laughed, then hugged.
After that movie, I got more roles, and then I got asked to do an ad with CL Beauty when I was 17. When I learned I could actually become a model, I was so happy. After that ad, I exclusively did modeling. That was my dream anyways. I starred in more ads until… I got invited to walk on the catwalk! I was 19 and one of the youngest to ever walk across on the catwalk. It was what I had always wanted to do. I’d finally achieved my goal.
When I got there, we were on a strict routine. Wake up, eat food, get dressed, go to the gym, go back home, shower, get ready for practice and fitting, go to practice and fitting, then go home, put on face masks, sleep. Sometimes we got manicures and pedicures. At the practice we were all yelled at. This wasn’t fun. This wasn’t what I had thought it would be like. It wasn’t like the ads. They were fat shaming us, saying that we were not the best, saying that our stomachs weren’t flat enough, saying that the only way to fix your “pretty” face is to get plastic surgery, saying that you aren’t perfect, that you aren’t enough.
My heart shattered into pieces, I thought, Is this the actual modeling world? Is this what I want? I didn’t know what to do. I loved modeling, but did I want to endure this torture? No, I didn’t want to be called worthless and ugly, but this was my dream. So I stayed. Probably the worst decision I have ever made. At times the insults got so bad I wanted to give up on my dream. I wanted to die. But I still stayed, because it’s my dream and I didn’t want to give it up, even if my emotional health was low and damaged. I just can’t believe my young self made such a mistake.
One day when I was in my studio apartment, I was admiring it before I went to bed (yep, that’s me). My studio room is small and homey. I installed heaters and air conditioning, so I could be comfortable.
I have a small twin bed with white sheets and a pastel pink blanket. There’s a small desk near my bed that’s a pastel blue color with two drawers. Inside the drawers are books. I love reading in my spare time, but I rarely have free time. On top of the desk is a pastel yellow lamp dimly, softly illuminating the entire room, making the room feel… nice. I have an icy purple furry rug. It’s super soft.
The walls have a white background with limes on it. The floor was wood, but the bathroom was tiles, and the kitchen was marble.
My kitchen was normal. Oven, stove, sink, fridge, and a microwave on top of the stove. Inside my bathroom is a bath and shower, a sink, a toilet, and a vanity full of makeup. The mirror on the vanity has lights. Inside the vanity drawers was a lot of makeup. On the desk of the vanity were curling irons and straightening irons. I have a little table with shaving cream, a razor, hair oil, body lotion, hand lotion, face lotion, leave-in conditioner, spray shampoo, and sunscreen (I don’t use spray tan, I think I’m bronze enough).
During the night I couldn’t sleep, I thought it was because I was looking at my phone, so I put it down. A few hours later, I still couldn’t sleep. I was really confused. I tried everything, but I couldn’t sleep. Then I started to think about my future. I thought if I was going to be treated like nothing for the rest of my modeling career, if I was going to be told to do stuff like a slave. I just didn’t know what to do. Then I was thinking some pretty dark thoughts. I was thinking of what I would do if my mom died. At that point I thought I would kill myself to be with her. I wasn’t in the right state of mind. At around two in the morning, I finally fell asleep.
A week after the sleeping incident, I was getting worse. I felt like pain was the only thing I had. I felt like I didn’t need a therapist. I thought they would try to make me not “myself.” I needed to be this terrible version of myself to feel free. I was happy I felt free. It was me and the blood, me and the deep cuts in my arms and wrists, me and the razor blade, me and the over the counter medicine that I popped in my mouth like candy. But in reality, I wasn’t actually free. I was trapped. Trapped in a jail cell, made of pain and self-doubt. My mom noticed I wasn’t talking to her. She started sending me message after message, call after call, trying to ask if I’m okay. I thought she wouldn’t help. She was like the therapist, trying to trap me. I can’t believe I thought that about my own mom. That time was the lowest I’ve felt mentally. I can still feel scars from those cuts. And they still let me model.
About a month later from the sleeping incident, I finally decided to reach out to my mom. She noticed my voice was raspy, that I was tired, that I was sad. She asked what’s wrong, and I broke out sobbing.
In between the sobs I muttered, “I’m not your perfect daughter” and “why do you stay with me?”
I thought my mom didn’t even deserve me. I thought no one deserves me, no one should love me. But I felt free, and that’s why I didn’t stop. My mom wanted to know why I thought this. She wanted to know the root, what caused me to be like this. I didn’t spill. I said it was due to stress, even though that was a complete lie. She believed it. She said I could talk to her any time. I complied.
After that call with my mom, I decided to meet a therapist. The call wasn’t the only reason I went. I went because the modeling agents said, “If you don’t put on your A-game, we will fire you! We will tell everyone you just break at the slightest touch, and you won’t get hired again. So get your head in the game, Miss Snowflake.”
The therapist said that I’ve gotten really bad through the course of a month. He gave me medication and told me to follow the dose. He consoled me, told me everything will be okay. He treated me like I wasn’t nothing, like I wasn’t a slave, but the modeling industry treated me like a slave. They used me for what they needed, they threw me around, then sold me. He helped me a lot.
There were two months before the catwalk, I stopped hurting myself. I wanted to do this catwalk. The two months flew by. I just hung out with the other models and had fun (the therapist told me that socializing was a key part to my recovery).
Then catwalk day came. We got hair stylists, makeup stylists, and outfit stylists pounded on us. We were in Paris. I got an old timey red dress with white polka dots (it looked like it was from the 50’s). I had red heels as well. My hair was in a classic night-out 50’s hair style, and my make-up was also the classic night-out 50’s style. I was beautiful. I was second to walk. I walked gracefully with the catwalk I made up in when I was a toddler, but I added a graceful twirl. Everyone clapped and cheered at all of us. I was beaming with fake glee, my grin was ear to ear, just like when I got the offer to walk on the catwalk. But this grin was a bit different. I wasn’t happy.
Want to know why I wasn’t happy? It was because of all the things I endured to show up on the catwalk for a few minutes. It was because I had to seek solace in cuts, blood, and drugs, but “nothing” serious, I just smoked. But after the catwalk I got poked fun at. People said that I was too fat for the catwalk, or they could see my glumness on my face. So it started again, my cycle of cuts, blood, and something new, starving myself. I decided not to do drugs. I still wanted to model. I hated being laughed at for trying my hardest.
I always felt hungry when I starved myself. But when I looked at the scale and the numbers were low, it somehow felt redeeming. But when the numbers are high I barely eat any food for days or weeks at a time.
I stopped talking to my therapist. I tried to distance myself from my mom, but when she did call I lied. I sounded as happy and jolly as I always was. The insults, the laughs, the taunts, it was torture. I decided to go do some more magazine cover photoshoots because you could hide your feelings in the photos. You could hide the cuts in the photos. You could hide it all.
I slowly started becoming a more famous model. I still had the scars, but they didn’t show as much. Then one day, three months after the catwalk, I became Australia’s next big hit. Everybody loved me. They asked about how thin I was, how pretty I was. All the girls wanted to be me. I was happy they loved me, and I decided to talk to my therapist again.
He noticed everything. He gave me some medicine, antidepressants, and told me to go to a clinic for people who are anorexic. I obliged. I wanted to keep my title. I went to a clinic. I took the medicine. I did everything to keep my title. Even though I still have depression to this day, I’m not anorexic anymore. That clinic probably saved my life. You had to finish all your food and drink or else you would get in trouble. It wasn’t fun, but if I didn’t do that I probably would’ve died.
I was happy. I was famous. I was an actress and model. All I wanted to be. I became friends with a lot of famous people, I was on the red carpet winning awards, everything I dreamed of doing. I even became best friends with Olive Flores, the girl who started my career. She’s also young, three years older than me. She’s like the older sister I’ve never had. On our days off, we hung out. We went to my house, I went to her house, we watched movie premieres, we got food at restaurants, we got ice cream and boba together, we did everything teenage girls did. I was 17 at the time, and she was 20. She said on her 21st birthday she would sneak me into a bar, so we could hang out. I loved her. I told her everything, and in return she told me about her own experiences and she gave me guidance. But she never told me she had the want to die.
On her 21st birthday she really did sneak me in a bar with her other friends. We were talking, and I was the only one who stayed sober. Everyone else was drinking. I thought it was funny when they stumbled or said dumb stuff.
Olive told me to have a drink, but then I chuckled and said, “Well then who’s going to drive y’all home?”
Then she understood and laughed. She then said “Fine. But next time you need to try alcohol.”
I said, “Okay, Olive I’ll try it on my 21st birthday, and I’ll invite you too! If you’re still friends with me.”
“Oh silly, I’m obviously always going to be by your side. I love you like a sister, Il. I would never leave you behind.”
“I love you like a sister too, Livy.”
“Oh, stop being so cute, and let’s dance!”
I laughed and said, “Okay, I’ll dance, only if you dance with me.”
She said, “I was obviously going to dance with you. Let’s go!”
I followed. That night was fun. I loved it. We hung out and danced, we laughed and told jokes, and at the end of the night I drove everyone home.
A month after her birthday I tried to call her to ask her if she wanted to hangout on the weekend. It transferred immediately to her classic voicemail, “Hey, it’s Olive! You missed me, probably because I’m busy with work or hanging out with some of my friends! Well, call me back, okay? See you later!” She never liked saying bye. She always said see you later. I was really confused, because Olive always takes my calls, even if she’s working. If she answers me when she’s working, she tells me to call back soon. Or she would text me after hanging up. I know her voicemail because she hasn’t changed it for years. I called her mom. She answered.
I asked, “Hey, Ms. Flores, do you know where Olive is?”
She said in a shocked tone, “I thought she was with you. She hasn’t been home. She hasn’t answered my calls either.”
“Oh no… I hope she’s not hurt. I’m going to file a missing persons report. We need to find her.”
“Thank you so much. You’re like the younger sister Olive never had. If you find her please take care of her and bring her to me, okay?”
“I would never hurt Olive. I promise you I will find her and bring her back home.”
“Okay, goodbye, sweetie.”
“Bye, Ms. Flores.”
I went to my local police station and filed a missing person report for Olive. The last time I saw her, and I think everyone else saw her, was on her 21st birthday. When I dropped her off at home she was wearing a black sparkly party dress that ended at her knees. She was wearing a white fur coat on top of that. She was wearing white stilettos, six inches high. She had black fishnet leggings for pants. She wore a black and white hat with a gray feather. Her hair was down and curled, tight party curls. Her makeup was the normal night out makeup. Without the heels she would be 5’4”. Her hair was black, thick, and long. She’s a brown Latina. Specifically, Central American.
The police found her in a forest one week after I filed the report. She hanged herself on a tree. Her suicide note said, I love you all, but I don’t think this is the right time for me to be on earth. The acting and modeling industry has given me many scars that I don’t want to live with. This industry has pushed me off the edge many times. In my head I have battles between living or dying, between staying or leaving. And I decided to leave. To my best friends, some of the best people in the world, I love you, and please don’t linger on me. Forget about me, please. I want you all to live a good life. Especially you, Isla, you have a bright future. Please don’t be influenced by me. Okay? I love you all, but I need to go now. I love you all. See you all later.
I collapsed when I read that at the police station. I remembered her being all jolly and happy. Now she’s… dead. This isn’t true. She wouldn’t leave me. I was in denial. I became a ball on the floor crying. I was heartbroken. She was the one who guided me through my career. Heck, she even started it. When I finished reading the note I felt like a knife had been stabbed in my heart. Olive’s mom and some of her friends were crying in their seats. They were trying to comfort me too. They knew I was really affected by her passing. I owe everything to her. My mind was in denial, but in my heart, I knew she was dead.
A week after I learned she died, her story was aired on the news. I was still heartbroken, and I couldn’t bare to watch her story on air. So I blocked out all news about her passing. I didn’t want to be reminded again and again of her death.
A month after her passing, I went to her funeral. She promised she would drink with me. I brought a bottle of wine and drank a cup of it. With her near me, but not with me. At her funeral I talked about her. I sang to her. “She was my beacon light in my dark times. She was the best.” I talked about her to cope with her death.
It took me months to recover. When I fully recovered, I realized that the modeling and show biz industry was not for me. I’ve already pretty much gone to hell and back. I didn’t want to die. I couldn’t die. I needed to live for her. So I quit my jobs, and I fell under obscurity again. I still miss her, even to this day, but I’ve cried so many tears for her that I have none left.
I woke up in my bed, covers over me, my head resting on a pillow. I sat up after laying there for a long time, thinking and breathing slowly, something I haven’t done in a long time.
I looked like a mess. My hair was everywhere, and I hadn’t showered or put makeup on yet. I haven’t shaved my legs and mustache in a long time.
I was thinking about Olive. I wasn’t crying. I was thinking happy thoughts about her. I felt at ease. I was thinking that I might be feeling peace, something I haven’t felt in so long, I was finally okay. I was at peace. I was happy.
I saw the sun was rising through the window, one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen in a while. The mixture of pinks, oranges, yellows, and that little hint of red that mixed together and shining through my window.
I was happy.
I asked, “Was that good?”
Maria said, “Perfect.”